Doubts remain after Egyptian election

The Egyptian parliamentary election on Sunday was the most significant in the country’s history since the coup that ousted the British-backed monarchy in 1952. The poll was important because the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) designed this consultation to ensure a peaceful transition from the 29-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, now 82 and in failing health, to a so far undesignated successor.

Mubarak has refused to appoint a vice president or name an heir. He is the only declared candidate in next fall’s presidential poll but he may not run. His son, Gamal, groomed for the job, is unpopular; the military could back its own candidate. The regime, regarded by many Egyptians as corrupt and self-serving, is under greater challenge than ever before.  ‘Change’ is the word on the lips of Egyptians demanding reform. ‘Change’ could be destabilising.

The newly elected people’s assembly will not produce ‘change.’ Some 5,200 candidates stood for 508 seats, 1,100 representing 14 parties; 4,100 contested as independents. The NDP fielded 780 official candidates and the majority of independents were NDP members who refused to stand down.

Amendment

The chief objective of the NDP was to secure a two-thirds majority in order to be able to amend the constitution to cope with whatever happens.

The regime’s second objective was to cut down to size the only serious opposition grouping, the Muslim Brotherhood which won 20 per cent of assembly seats in the last election in 2005. More than 1,200 Brotherhood activists and supporters were detained during the campaign and the police denied Brotherhood supporters access to polling stations on voting day.

The regime’s third objective was to ensure that the election would have credibility by making certain that a small number of seats was won by the secular opposition.

Unfortunately, indisciplined NDP candidates seem to have denied the regime this goal.
Commentator Hani Shukrallah explained that the NDP is not really a political entity but a patronage network. Candidates seek office in order to cement commercial and political ties to the government and to secure benefits. For this reason, the election was hotly contested.

Nevertheless, 80 per cent of the 40 million Egyptians old enough to vote did not cast ballots. Egyptians contend that they do not vote because voting has nothing to do with them. Consequently turn-out has traditionally been less than 20 per cent of eligible voters. Of those who do participate, 80 per cent are civil servants who vote for the NDP to keep their jobs and rural people who support the NDP because local and tribal leaders are in the party’s pockets.

Shukrallah said the election is about maintaining the NDP in power and sustaining its patronage networks. The opposition seeks to survive and operate in the political arena in order to ‘create space’ for independent activity. Therefore, boycotts do not serve the interests of the opposition which must assert its presence on the political scene in order to remain relevant. Failure to participate in the political process risks demise.

Nobel laureate Muhammad Elbaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not realise this when he called for opposition parties to boycott the vote.

Although his movement for change collected some 2,00,000 signatures on its petition calling for reforms, Elbaradei was unable to convince the two most prominent opposition parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular Wafd, Egypt’s oldest party, to boycott and thereby render the exercise a non-election.

While the government angrily rejected international observers to monitor the conduct of the election, a variety of courageous Egyptian groups tried to oversee polling. But few members of these groups had any illusions about the fairness of the election.

Ghada Shahbender, a member of the board of trustees of the independent Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said that this election could be ‘more fraudulent than any we have witnessed. In 2005, the judiciary oversaw the elections. While some judges were involved in fraud, those who took part were better trained and better organised’ than the civil servants responsible for running the poll this time around. She argued that there ‘will be change because there must be change. This farce is sad  for our country and sad for our future.’

On December 5, there will be run-offs in constituencies where there were no outright winners. In most cases, these contests will be between NDP candidates who are expected to use all means, fair and foul, to ensure that they will win.

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